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Love, Tiny Flies, and One Big Opportunity for Researchers to Work Together Helping Farmers on Both Sides of the Border ~ Foreign Perspectives

Me at the University of Guelph Elora Research Station.

by Elisabeth Hodgdon, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Vermont

“It’s a story of unrequited love,” says Dr. Yolanda Chen, my Ph.D. advisor, describing our research on pheromone mating disruption. Mating disruption, a pest management strategy that involves inundating a field with synthetic sex pheromone, prevents male insects from finding their mates because they can’t cue in on individual female pheromone plumes. As a result, the males become confused and die without mating. During my time as a Ph.D. student, I’ve spent a lot of time in Vermont and Ontario becoming intimately familiar with the sex lives of swede midge, a serious invasive pest of cruciferous crops.

Swede midge (Contarinia nasturtii, Diptera: Cecidomyiidae) first arrived in North America in the 1990s in Ontario. Vegetable growers started noticing that their broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage plants were deformed and didn’t produce heads, and that their kale leaves were twisted and scarred. On canola farms, yields decreased because of distorted plant growth. The culprit, identified by Dr. Rebecca Hallett and her research group from the University of Guelph, was a tiny fly called swede midge. The midge, only about 2 mm long as an adult, is seemingly invisible to farmers because it is so small. Within a few years, the midge had made its way from Ontario to Québec and other provinces, and into New York and Vermont.

Female swede midge on cauliflower.

At the University of Vermont, we are the only research lab in the US working on this pest, which is currently causing up to 100% yield loss of organic broccoli and kale in our state. Naturally, it made sense for Dr. Chen to reach out to Dr. Hallett in Guelph for collaboration to investigate management options for this pest. Together, they wrote a grant funded by the USDA to conduct pheromone mating disruption research on swede midge that would take place in both Vermont and in Guelph.

This where I enter into the story. I jumped at the opportunity to join Dr. Chen’s lab, not just because I’m interested in insect pest management, but also because of my continuing love affair with Canada. I grew up in Vermont, a small state that borders Québec and has had lots of influence from our northerly neighbors: a history of French-Canadian immigrants, widespread availability of decent quality poutine, and signage in our largest city en français, among other things. I grew up learning French and visiting nearby Montréal and later went on to study agriculture at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus. I was thrilled at the opportunity to spend more time in Canada during my Ph.D. program.

Me and University of Guelph entomology graduate students at the ESC meeting in Winnipeg last fall: Charles-Étienne Ferland, Jenny Liu, me, Sarah Dolson & Matt Muzzatti (left to right). Photo credit: Matt Muzzatti.

I have gotten to know the English-speaking provinces better through my graduate work as a visiting Ph.D. student in Dr. Hallett’s lab in Guelph. Although many Canadians, especially those from nearby Toronto, describe Guelph as being a “small farm town,” it felt like a real city, especially coming from Vermont. I fell in love with Guelph — the year-round farmers market, old stone buildings, beautiful gardens, and emphasis on local food. The large sprawling farms just outside the city were the perfect places for me to do my research on swede midge pheromone mating disruption, which required lots of space between plots and treatments. Back in Vermont, where the farmland is wedged in small valleys between mountain ranges, we just don’t have the scale of crop production that there is in Ontario.

Josée Boisclair, me, Yolanda Chen, and Thomas Heer (left to right) at IRDA this summer getting ready to transplant broccoli for mating disruption research.

Working with Dr. Hallett opened up many doors and expanded my network in Canada. Last year, my advisor and I started a collaboration with the Institut de recherche et de développement en agroenvironnement (IRDA) in St-Bruno-de-Montarville, Québec. Earlier this winter, I practiced my French and mustered up the nerve to give two extension presentations on my swede midge work to francophone farmers in Québec. I was surprised at the number of people who came up to me after my talk, appreciative that I was making an effort to communicate with them in French rather than English. They were genuinely interested in working together with my research group across the border to help strengthen our research efforts to manage swede midge.

In all the time I’ve spent in Canada (which at this point can be measured in years), I can’t think of a time when I’ve felt unwelcome. On the contrary, I am impressed with how open most Canadians are to foreigners. I hope that we can continue to work together, despite language barriers, differing political systems, and other potential challenges, to gain traction in our efforts to find solutions for swede midge and other shared invasive species in the future.

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ESC Blog Classifieds – U Winnipeg MSc Opportunity Rearing Endangered Butterflies

MSc Graduate Student Opportunity in the Department of Biology, University of Winnipeg

Project title: Developing a laboratory rearing technique for the endangered Poweshiek skipperling and assessing the feasibility of introduction into tall grass prairie habitats in Manitoba.

Objectives: The Poweshiek skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek) is an Endangered butterfly species that is in critical danger of becoming extinct. Less than 500 individuals remain in the wild and the grasslands of southeastern Manitoba represent one of the species’ last strongholds. The species inhabits remnant patches of tall-grass prairie and in the past 10 years has greatly declined across its historical range. Working at both the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg and the University of Winnipeg, the student will help develop laboratory rearing techniques and to determine the feasibility of reintroducing the Poweshiek skipperling into tall grass prairie sites where it has been extirpated or new potential prairie habitat. The student will study life history factors (such as mortality and survivorship of various development stages) and evaluate potential tall grass prairie sites for reintroduction. This study is in coordination with the University of Winnipeg, Assiniboine Park Zoo, and Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

See flyer for further details and how to apply.

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ESC Blog Classifieds – 2 Post-docs @ University of Alberta (Chemical Ecology & Ecophysiology)

Seeking Two Postdoctoral Fellows in Tree Responses to Insect Herbivores and Drought

Area of Research: Chemical Ecology & Ecophysiology

Location: Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton (Alberta, Canada)

Description of positions: The interdisciplinary project goal is to characterize the contributions that metabolomics and genomics-assisted tree breeding can play in comprehensive forest planning. Postdoctoral fellows (PDFs) sought for this project to assess the activities of tree defense and ecophysiological responses to insect herbivory and drought. The PDFs will characterize the secondary compounds, anatomy, and ecophysiology of two conifer species (lodgepole pine and white spruce) in response to insect herbivory and drought treatments in both greenhouse trials and associated progeny field trials in Alberta. The PDFs will be responsible for conducting and coordinating both lab and field investigations that include anatomical and chemical characterization of tree defenses, assessment of 13C, gas exchange, and chlorophyll fluorescence plant drought response, implementation of greenhouse and field experiments, data management, statistical analyses, writing reports and peer-reviewed journal manuscripts, and interact with industrial and government partners. The PDFs will also assist with supervision of full and part-time research assistants and undergraduate students. Even though each PDF will have his/her own research projects, it is expected that they work and collaborate together.

Salary: $50,000+ benefits per year, commensurate with experience.

Required qualifications: PhD in a relevant field is required. The ideal candidate should have background and experience in chemical ecology, ecophysiology, entomology, forest ecology, with strong analytical chemistry of plant secondary compounds (primarily terpenes and phenolics) using GC-MS and LC-MS, and writing skills. Suitable applicants with a primary background in one or more areas, plus interest in other research areas, are encouraged to apply.

Application instructions: All individuals interested in these positions must submit: (1) an updated CV; and (2) a cover letter explaining their qualities, including a list of 3 references along with their contact information (a maximum of 2 pages). Applications should be sent by email to Nadir Erbilgin (erbilgin@aulberta.ca) and Barb Thomas (bthomas@ualberta.ca) by the closing date. Please list “PDF application in Tree Responses to Insect Herbivores and Drought” in the subject heading.

Closing date: November 30, 2016.

Supervisors: Nadir Erbilgin (https://sites.ualberta.ca/~erbilgin/) and Barb Thomas (http://www.rr.ualberta.ca/StaffProfiles/AcademicStaff/Thomas.aspx)

Expected start date: January 2017 (with some flexibility)

Terms: 1-4 years (1st year initial appointment, with additional years subject to satisfactory performance).

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ESC Blog Classifieds – MSc opportunity for prairie ecosystem research

 MSc – Role of dung-breeding insects in pasture ecosystems

Applications are invited for an MSc position to begin January or May of 2017.  Research will examine the role of dung-breeding insects in pasture ecosystems in southern Alberta.  This is a collaborative project between Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the University of Lethbridge (U. of L.), both based in Lethbridge, Alberta.

The project will include insect surveys using dung-baited pitfall traps from May through September on native pastures in southern Alberta, Canada. The role of dung insect activity will be assessed for effects on dung degradation, soil nutrients and micro-fauna, and greenhouse gas emissions.  Dung beetles will be examined as potential vectors of parasites affecting livestock.

The ideal applicant will have recently completed an undergraduate degree in biology or related program with courses in entomology and ecology.  They will be enthusiastic, innovative, and have excellent communication skills (written, oral) in English.  They must be able to work independently and as part of a team.  They must have a valid driver’s license and meet the scholastic qualifications required for acceptance into Graduate Studies at the U. of L.

The successful applicant will be jointly supervised by Drs. Kevin Floate (AAFC) and Cam Goater (U. of L.).  Under the supervision of Dr. Floate, the student will be based at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre (AAFC), where they will perform the main body of their research.  The Floate lab studies diverse aspects of insect community ecology with particular emphasis on prairie ecosystems (https://sites.google.com/site/dungins/homepage). Under the supervision of Dr. Goater, the student will be enrolled in an MSc program in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Lethbridge.  Research in the dynamic Goater lab focuses on the ecology and evolution of host/parasite interactions, and on prairie biodiversity and conservation (http://scholar.ulethbridge.ca/cpg/home).

Informal communication with Dr. Floate prior to application is encouraged.  To apply, please send a cover letter detailing your fit to the position, a CV, a copy of your most recent transcripts, and the names and contact details of three referees to Dr. Kevin Floate (Kevin.Floate@agr.gc.ca).  The deadline for application is November 1, 2016.

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Rassemblement de la recherche entomologique canadienne: Septembre 2015 – Janvier 2016

(English version here)

Cet article fait partie d’une série continue de rassemblement de la recherche entomologique canadienne (Canadian Entomology Research Roundups). Voici ce que les étudiants de cycle supérieur canadiens ont fait récemment:

De la part des auteurs:

Finn Hamilton (University of Victoria)

C’est bien connu que la majorité des insectes sont hôtes à des bactéries symbiotiques qui ont de profondes conséquences sur la biologie de l’hôte. Dans certains cas, ces symbioses peuvent protéger l’hôte contre de virulents parasites et pathogens, même si dans la plupart des cas planent encore un mystère sur la façon dont les symbionts réussissent à atteindre cette défense. Dans cet article, nous avons démontré qu’une souche de la bactérie Spiroplasma qui protège son hôte drosophile contre un nématode parasitaire virulent encode une toxine sous forme de protéine. Cette toxine semble attaquer l’hôte du nématode durant une défense induite par Spiroplasma. Ceci représente, à ce jour, une des démonstrations les plus claires des mécanismes sous-jacents de la symbiose promouvant la défense des insectes. Lien vers l’article


Voici une mouche Drosophila falleni infecté par le nematode, Howardula aoronymphium, dont Spiroplasma  la protège. Crédit phot: Finn Hamilton.

Lucas Roscoe (University of Toronto)

L’agrile du frêne (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) est un buprestide ravageur s’attaquant aux frênes d’Amérique du Nord. Dans l’optique du développement de plans de gestion à long-terme de l’agrile du frêne, plusieurs projets détaillant la biologie et l’écologie de parasitoïdes indigènes peu étudiés auparavant ont été amorcés. Un des projets s’intéresse à la séquence de reproduction d’un parasitoïde, Phasgonophora sulcata Westwood. Plusieurs insectes entreprennent des actions répétées avant la reproduction qui sont souvent induites par des phéromones. Les résultats de cette étude sont la description de la séquence de reproduction de P. sulcata et la preuve que les phéromones produites par les femelles sont à la base de ses actions. Liens vers l’article


Phasgonophora sulcata, un parasitoïde important de l’agrile du frêne. Crédit photo: Lucas Roscoe.

Marla Schwarzfeld (University of Alberta)

Les guêpes parasitiques du genre Ophion (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) sont presqu’entièrement inconnu dans la région Néarctique, où la majorité des espèces ne sont pas décrites. Dans cette étude, nous publions la première phylogénie moléculaire de ce genre, basé sur les régions COI, ITS2, and 28S. Bien que nous mettions l’accent sur les spécimens Néarctique, nous avons aussi inclus des représentants des espèces les plus connus de de l’ouest de la région Paléarctique et plusieurs séquences d’autre régions géographiques. Nous avons délimités 13 groupes d’espèces, la plupart étant reconnu pour la première fois dans cette étude. Cette phylogénie nous fournit un cadre essentiel qui pourra, nous espérons, inspirer les taxonomistes à divisier et conquérir (et décrire!) de nouvelles espèces dans ce genre qui présente de grands défis morphologiques. Liens vers l’article


A parasitoid wasp in the genus Ophion. Photo credit: Andrea Jackson

Seung-Il Lee (University of Alberta)

Seung-Il Lee et ses collègues (University of Alberta) ont trouvé que de larges territoires de rétention (> 3.33 ha) minimisent « l’effet de bordure » négatif sur les coléoptères saproxyliques dans les peuplements boréals d’épinette blanche. Liens vers l’article  Billet de blogue (EN)


Un coléoptère saproxylique, Peltis fraterna. Crédit photo: Seung-Il Lee.

Paul Abram (Université de Montréal)

La relation entre la taille des insectes et certains traits distinctifs (tel que la longévité, la fécondité, …) a été largement étudié, mais l’effet additionnel de la taille sur les traits comportementales sont moins bien connus. En utilisant le parasitoïde d’oeuf  Telenomus podisi Ashmead (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae) et trois de ses hôtes punaises comme système modèle, nous avons démontrés que la différence de taille était associé a un changement dans la plusieurs traits distinctifs (longévité, masse d’oeufs, taille des oeufs), mais aussi de certains traits comportementales (vitesse de marche, taux d’oviposition, taux de marquage des oeufs). Nos résultats mettent en relief comment la phénotype complet (comportement et traits distinctifs) doivent être considéré quand nous évaluons l’association entre la taille et la condition physique. Liens vers l’article


Le parasitoïde Telenomus podisi parasitisant les oeufs de la punaise Podisus maculiventris. Crédit photo: Leslie Abram.

Delyle Polet (University of Alberta)

Les ailes de insectes ont souvent des éléments directionnels rugueux – comme des poils et des écailles- qui perdent des gouttes d’eau dans le sens des éléments, mais pourquoi ces éléments ne pointent pas toujours dans la même direction? Nous avons proposé que trois stratégies sont en jeu. Les gouttes pourrait être (1) évacuer loin du corps, (2) être perdues aussi vite que possible et (3) évacuer de « vallées » formés entre les veines des ailes. Un modèle mathématique combinant trois de ces stratégies concorde avec l’orientation des poils sur un taon (Penthetria heteroptera) assez bien et pourrait être appliqué à d’autres espèces ou à des matériaux inspirés par la biologie. Liens vers l’article


Poils sur l’aile d’un taon (Penthetria heteroptera). Crédit photo: Delyle Polet.

Résumés bref de recherche

Taxonomie, Systématique, and Morphologie

Thomas Onuferko du laboratoire Packer à York University et ses collègues ont réalisé un vaste étude sur les espèces d’abeilles dans la région de Niagara, Ontario. Onuferko et al. ont collecté plus de 50 000 abeilles et ont découvert 30 espèces qui n’avait pas été rapporté dans la région. Liens vers l’article

Christine Barrie et ses collègues ont signalé que des mouches de la famille Chloropidae sont associés aux phragmites au Canada. Lien vers l’article

Comportment et écologie

Blake Anderson (McMaster University) et ses collègues ont étudié l’hypothèse du découplage du comportement social et de l’activité dans les mouches larvaires et adultes. Lien vers l’article

Susan Anthony du laboratoire Sinclair à Western University, ainsi que Chris Buddle (McGill University), ont déterminé que le pseudoscorpion de Béringie peut tolérer tant les basses températures et l’immersion. Lien vers l’article

Une étude par Fanny Maure (Université de Montréal) démontre que le status nutritionnel d’un hôte, la coccinelle maculée (Coleomegilla maculata), influence le destin de l’hôte et condition physique du parasitoïde. Lien vers l’article

Est-ce que la connectivité est la clé? Des laboratoires Buddles et Bennet à l’Université McGill et du laboratoire James à l’Université de Montréal, Dorothy Maguire (Université McGill) et ses collègues ont utilisé la connectivité du paysage et les insectes herbivores pour proposer un cadre pour examiner les compromis associés aux services ecosystèmiques. Lien vers l’article

 Alvaro Fuentealba (Université Laval) et ses collègues ont découvert que différentes espèces d’arbres hôtes montrent des variations à la résistance naturelle à la tordeuse du bourgeon de l’épinette. Lien vers l’article

Gestion des insectes ravageurs

Rachel Rix (Dalhousie University) et al. ont observé qu’un stress modéré induit par l’insecticide pour augmenter la reproduction et aider les pucerons a mieux se débrouiller avec le stress subséquent. Lien vers l’article

Lindsey Goudis (University of Guelph) et ses collègues ont découvert que la meilleure façon de contrôler Striacosta albicota (Smith) est d’appliquer de la lamba-cyhalothrine de la chlorantraniprole 4 à 18 jours après l’éclosion de 50% des oeufs. Lien vers l’article

Matthew Nunn (Acadia University) et ses collègues ont documenté la diversité et densité d’importantes espèces ravageuses des bleuets sauvages en Nouvelle-Écosse. Lien vers l’article

Physiologie et génétique

Est-ce que l’heterozygositie améliore la symétrie de Xeromelissa rozeni?  Margarita Miklasevskaja (York University) et ses collègues ont testé cette hypothèse dans leur plus récent article. Lien vers l’article


Un male Xeromelissa rozeni. Crédit photo: Margarita Miklasevskaja.

Jasmine Janes, récemment graduée de University of Alberta, et d’autres ont exploré les systèmes de reproduction et de structure génétique à petite échelle pour la gestion efficace du Dendroctone du pin ponderosa. Lien vers l’article

Du laboratoire Sperling à University of Alberta, Julian Dupuis et Felix Sperling ont examiné l’interaction complexe de l’hybridation et de la spéciation. Ils ont caractérisé le potentiel d’hybridation dans un groupe de Papilonidae. Lien vers l’article

Marina Defferrari (University of Toronto) et ses collègues ont identifié un nouveau peptide similair à l’insuline dans Rhodnius prolixus. Ses peptides sont impliqués dans l’homéostasie métaboliques des lipides et carbohydrates. Lien vers l’article


Crystal Ernst (McGill University) et ses collègues ont collecté des coléoptères et des araignées dans différents habitats du Nord. Ils ont trouvé que la diversité des coléoptères et des araignées par habitat et type de trappes. Lien vers l’article

Nous continuous à aider à divulguer les publications des étudiants de cycle supérieur à la plus vaste communauté entomologique grâce aux rassemblement de recherche. Si vous avez publié un article récemment et souhaitez le divulguer, envoyez-nous un email à entsoccan.students@gmail.com.  Vous pouvez aussi nous envoyer des photos et une courte description de votre recherche dans le but apparaître dans notre prochain rassemblement de recherche.

Pour des mises à jour régulières sur la nouvelle recherche entomologique canadienne, vous pouvez joindre la page Facebook de ESC Students ou nous suivre sur Twitter @esc_students (EN) ou @esc_students_fr (FR).

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The sand-verbena moth


Figure 1 The sand-verbena moth (Photo: Wendy Gibble, Used under a CreativeCommons CC_BY 2.0 licence)

By Lisa Jørgensen

The sand-verbena moth (Copablepharon fuscum) is, when it comes to looks, a relatively anonymous fellow.  This nocturnal moth, which belongs to the order Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and the family Noctuidae, has a wingspan of 3.5-4.0 cm and has only been found in three Canadian sites, all on the coast of southwestern British Columbia, and in a few sites in the northwestern coastal part of Washington, USA.

The moth is heavily dependent on the presence of yellow sand-verbena, as this plant is the only host that it uses for egg laying, and later for the emerging larvae and adult to feed on. The yellow sand-verbena demands sandy, nutrient poor conditions, and though it is present in areas where other plants are dominating, it will only flower at sites where it is the dominant species. The moth has been found to require large patches of yellow sand-verbena to sustain a population, but such patches are difficult to come across because of the habitat requirements of the plant.


Figure 2 Preferred habitat of yellow sand-verbena, here Long Beach Peninsula, WA, US (Photo: Wendy Gibble), Used under a CreativeCommons CC_BY 2.0 licence)

This pickiness in the moth’s choice of host plant is the most probable reason that the sand-verbena moth is considered an endangered species under the SARA (Species at Risk Act), which is the official list of Canadian wildlife at risk. The label ‘endangered’ is put on species that are in risk of extirpation or extinction, meaning that the present populations of an ‘endangered’ species are the last in the wild. We do not know how many individuals of this moth species is left, but we do know that due to plant invasion, the number of sandy patches with yellow sand-verbena is decreasing, as other plants colonize the same habitat, thus keeping down numbers of yellow sand-verbena and keeping them from flowering. When the number or size of available habitats is lowered, the moth populations will naturally experience a decrease. Another reason for the loss of habitat is the proximity of the sandy patches to the shoreline that makes the patches at risk of suffering of erosion or flooding, and the use of dunes for military training that expose the plants to the risk of being trampled down. A more direct threat to the moth than the threat of habitat loss, is the spraying of Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki) against the larvae of pest moths, or parasitic flies introduced (i.e. not from the “hood”) for the same cause.

But why should we care about this specific endangered species? It does not play any crucial part in the pollination of yellow sand-verbena, nor is it particularly important in the local food web or to the economy, so what would happen if it we took the laissez-faire approach and did nothing to help this species? It would probably disappear from some patches, and ultimately go extinct, as it has shown poor ability into dispersal on its own. But we can do something, and it may not even cost us a lot of money (that’s a good argument, eh?)! Approaches to help recovery the Canadian populations of sand-verbena moth include the protection of patches dominated by yellow sand-verbena by physically protecting the plants from erosion and trampling by training soldiers, by fencing the area (however temporarily), and the movement of yellow sand-verbena from patches where it has a low abundance (and so no sand-verbena moth population) to patches that are in risk of being dominated by other plants (with a moth population). Also, public outreach to the areas with populations of sand-verbena moth has been initiated, and the existing populations are being monitored. The Ministry of Environment of British Columbia considers the recovery goal of the sand-verbena moth, to maintain the populations at the current locations, to be feasible.







SARA (Government of Canada): https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=789 25/11 2015

British Columbia Invertebrates Recovery Team. 2008. Recovery strategy for Sand-verbena Moth (Copablepharon fuscum) in British Columbia. Prepared for the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, BC. 18 pp.


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Winning Presentations

Photo 1 The author’s graduate student, Andrew Chaulk, captured in mid-presentation at the ESCJAM 2015 in Montreal. Andrew received an honourable mention for this communication. (photo by Sean McCann)

The author’s graduate student, Andrew Chaulk, captured in mid-presentation at the ESCJAM 2015 in Montreal. Andrew received an honourable mention for this communication. (photo by Sean McCann)

Guest post by Tom Chapman


My students frequently win prizes for their conference presentations (2015 was a particularly good year for our group), and I am more than willing to bask in their reflected glory. But really, was I a brilliant speaker in my day? Simply put, no. I have gotten better, you can’t help it, it just comes with age. And perhaps having taken my lumps, I am now able to provide some helpful advice. Looking back on my public speaking experiences, I think I can offer two lessons for students that are worried about presenting at scientific meetings: (1) there is time to develop as a speaker (2) in the meantime, if you are earnest; that is, you think you have something to say, no matter how modest, that could benefit your audience, your presentation is going to go well. To demonstrate these lessons, what follows is primarily the story of my last, and scariest, undergraduate presentation. Although, I start this story the year after that.


It was orientation day for us newly enrolled graduate students. We were shown the library, we met the office staff, we met our graduate student representatives and we were given advice on various aspects of graduate student life by the faculty. One grad-rep told us that these were to be the “best days of our lives!” I was hopeful, but she turned out to be very wrong (lots of bloggy grist there for another time). More nonsense was presented to us on the subject of presentations. Let’s call this presenter Professor Ramrod. Never use humour in a talk – and there was none to be found in Ramrod’s Address. Men should wear a tie and jacket and women should wear a skirt suit. He was wearing a classic tweed jacket with leather elbow patches; yup, I’m sure you are picturing him perfectly now. During this presentation I tried and failed to make knowing eye contact with my fellow novices. They must have been concentrating very hard on their poker faces, otherwise, were they really taking seriously this dinosaur’s fashion advice? Ramrod’s list of no-no’s continued: never lean on the lectern, never move out from behind the lectern, never put your hands in your pockets, never… In brief, this teacher of the highest rank’s take home message: there is only one way to give a presentation. What bullshit! I think you get advice like this from people that assume when they find themselves at their destination that every step they took en route was a positive and essential one. And they must be incurious in the stories of others in order to believe that they have found the one true path. I have a colleague that told me his secret to winning large research grants. I leaned forward attentively as he said “use plenty of sub-headings.” Ta-da! I’ve read his grant applications. He is wildly successful despite using a ludicrous number of pointless sub-headings. Similarly, my ramrod impaled professor above, was successful despite being an uninspiring orator. Take note here, you have to give presentations, but you don’t need to be good at it to have a career in science. On that first day of orientation, I sensed that presentation-cat-skinning could be done a number of ways, but I hadn’t found my way. In fact, my last presentation as an undergraduate was a nightmare.

The author (1990), Truelove Lowlands, Devon Island. (photo by Christine Earnshaw)

The author (1990), Truelove Lowlands, Devon Island. (photo by Christine Earnshaw)


I was enrolled in a research course where you conduct an original project, write a paper about it, and then present it to the faculty. My project was in the Canadian high arctic (Truelove lowlands on Devon Island, to be more precise), and I was measuring the amount of heat energy absorbed by the inflorescences of Salix arctica, the arctic willow. What does this have to do with insects? Not a lot, I focused on the impact of heat on the development time of pollen and ovules. But maybe you didn’t know that some insects can be attracted to some plants for the heat energy they offer. I did find fly larvae in some of the fuzzier inflorescences of the willows on Devon, but I didn’t pursue it. If that observation hasn’t already been noted and published by others, you’re welcome to it. Everything that was involved in executing this project, even the data analysis and writing, was a thrilling experience for me. I had plenty of help and inspiration from others, and I do credit this experience with influencing my decision to pursue a career in research. Again, my oral presentation was almost the undoing of that.


While helping me to prepare my talk, my adviser could sense that I was very nervous. So, he told me the story of the student he supervised in the course the previous year. Apparently, this student did a great job collecting data and putting together the final paper. His presentation went well enough, but the final slide, no one knows why, was a picture of this student and his girlfriend. They were both naked, spread eagled and caught in mid-jump off the end of someone’s cottage dock. There was no microphone in the classroom, but it was certainly a drop-mic moment. He took no questions and walked out of the room never to be seen again, or so I was told. I think I was to take from this story that no matter how bad my presentation went it wouldn’t be that bad. Instead, what I took from this story was that it was possible to screw up so horribly that you could be remembered forever and used as a warning to others. It never helps, don’t tell these stories when someone is feeling anxious. It’s the same rule when trying to comfort someone before a comprehensive exam or dissertation defence. When you say something like, “don’t worry about it, Terri passed and she’s an idiot”, that just means to your listener that not only will they fail, they’ll be stupider than Terri. If you get told an apocryphal public speaking story, keep a few things in mind. The teller usually wasn’t present at the talk, so who knows how true the story is, and the teller never goes on to say what happened to the person afterwards. I didn’t see spread-eagle boy’s talk, I can’t be sure of its veracity, but if my advisor had gone on to say that the guy passed the course anyway, and that spread-eagle boy and his girlfriend are still in love and doing crazy fun things together, I would have felt better. Public speaking is rarely lethal, and even if it goes badly the impacts on you and your career are local and temporary.


I didn’t have that perspective the evening before this arctic willow talk. I didn’t sleep at all, and let’s just say that I left the bathroom fan on for the night. There were five of us to give talks, I was last. There were about 15 faculty and a handful of graduate students in attendance, each of them was armed with five printed sheets of paper to guide them in their evisceration of the five of us. The small size of the classroom made it very cramped and, therefore, this already intimidating audience was made more menacing. I don’t know how my classmates performed or what their projects were about because I was lost in anxious thoughts. When my turn finally came I was bloated with gas and in pain. I gingerly walked to the lectern and then stood unmoving. I was following Professor Ramrods future advice, but only because I was afraid if I moved I would fart. When I began my talk I discovered that my tongue would repeatedly release with a clack from the roof of my very dry mouth. I would utter a few sentences that sounded like clack, clack, clack, clack, and then I would pause. During these pauses I would switch hundreds of times rapidly between two panicky thoughts: run away now and never look back; stick it out and finish this crappy little lecture. Then I would continue clack, clack, clack, clack, pause, clack, clack, clack, clack, pause until my talk was finished. I wasn’t completely sure how it went, but at least I didn’t fart. I wonder if there is someone out there who was unable to say that at the end of their presentation?


In my evaluations several people indicated irritation that they couldn’t see the whole screen because I was blocking some of it, and they suggested that I move around a bit; they didn’t know I had gas, but fair enough. More shocking was that the majority of my evaluators described my frequent pauses as thoughtful. What was sheer panic was largely perceived by my audience as calm control, or they were willing to put the best spin on it. I got an okay mark, so it would appear that even this assembly, stacked with smarty-pantses, was willing to work to understand my message and could sympathize with a young person who was obviously nervous. Caring audiences are not just found at home. Years later, a lab-mate of mine gave a talk at an international meeting. She always put awesome hours of preparation into her talks. Although, to see her present was like visiting Disney’s Hall of Presidents. Like an automaton, she would appear to rise slowly from beneath the stage and then would begin human enough looking head and hand movements while unerringly running through her very formal monologue. But, during this presentation something jammed a cog in her works and she stumbled on the word “phylogeneticist” and then blurted out loudly “I screwed up!”. She then continued with her script, took questions and left the stage. I caught up with her a little later, she had clearly had had a cry, she is not the robot you see on stage. While we chatted several strangers interrupted us to tell her how much they appreciated her presentation. One woman went so far as to say it was the best presentation of the meeting; no small praise, we were in the third day of the conference program of about 1000 talks. Every audience is filled with these wonderful people. Yes, there are a few sociopaths out there, but they are hugely outnumbered and you can count on the rest of us to understand what you are going through and to pull you along.


Back to my undergrad presentation, the other positive comment from my assessors was how well I handled their questions. In Steven Pinker’s book, The Sense of Style, there is a chapter called The Curse of Knowledge. He argues that painfully unintelligible writing arises from the author failing to imagine “what it’s like for someone else not to know something that [they] know”. I did that with this talk. I failed to realize that no one in that room was there on the tundra with me, nor had anyone else been to the arctic at all. The questions were simple, and now I can see how I had motivated them. I have come to really look forward to questions (I would rather cut short my presentation than to miss hearing from the audience), they are the best indication to me of how well my message came through, and it’s a small disaster when I get no questions at all.


In summary, my group emotionally support each other (I get support too), we focus and refine our talk messages, we take risks by exploring new ways to communicate those messages, we think about our audience’s perspective and we count on empathy from those audiences. If some scientific society wants to give one of us a cheque, then the drinks are on the winner.

The author’s graduate student, Holly Caravan, captured in mid-presentation at the ESCJAM 2015 in Montreal. Holly was selected to present in the Graduate Student Showcase. (photo by Sean McCann)

The author’s graduate student, Holly Caravan, captured in mid-presentation at the ESCJAM 2015 in Montreal. Holly was selected to present in the Graduate Student Showcase. (photo by Sean McCann)

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Canadian Entomology Research Roundup: June 2015 – September 2015

As part of a continuing series of Canadian Entomology Research Roundups, here’s what some Canadian entomology grad students have been up to lately:

Ecology and Evolution

Rasoul Bahreini (University of Manitoba) found that honeybee breeding can improve tolerance to Varroa mites which can help minimize colony losses in the winter and improve overwintering performance (Article link). Rasoul also found that reducing ventilation may be an effective way to manage Varroa mite infestation in overwintering honeybee colonies (Article link), and that Nosema infection restrained Varroa removal success in bees (Article link).

A setup to study the effects of Nosema on Varroa mite removal in honeybees (Photo: Rasoul Bahreini)

A setup to study the effects of Nosema on Varroa mite removal in honeybees (Photo: Rasoul Bahreini)

A novel method based on agar-polydimethylsiloxane devices to quantitatively investigate oviposition behaviour in Drosophila melanogaster was described by Jacob Leung and colleagues (York University) (Article link).

Paul Abram (Université de Montréal) and his colleagues found that a predatory stink bug has control of egg colouration, depending on whether it is laying on the top or underside of leaves.  The pigment protects developing embryos against UV radiation (Article link). See also a related post on the ESC blog, an article in the New York Times, and a dispatch article in Current Biology.

A spined soldier bug female, with the range of egg colours she is capable of laying (Photo: Leslie Abram/Paul Abram/Eric Guerra)

A spined soldier bug (Podisus maculiventris) female, with the range of egg colours she is capable of laying (Photo: Leslie Abram/Paul Abram/Eric Guerra)

Philippe Boucher and colleagues (Université du Québec à Rimouski/Chicoutimi) found that ant colonization of dead wood plays a role in nitrogen and carbon dynamics after forest fires (Article link).

Did you know that ground squirrels have lice – and males have more than females? Neither did we, but Matt Yunick and colleagues (University of Manitoba) recently published an article in The Canadian Entomologist describing their findings (Article link).

Boyd Mori and Dana Sjostrom (University of Alberta) were part of a group of researchers that found that pheromone traps are less effective at high densities of forest tent caterpillars because of competition for pheromone plumes (Article link).

Parasitoid memory dynamics are affected by realistic temperature stress. As part of a collaboration with the University of Palermo (Italy), Paul Abram (Université de Montréal) and colleagues discovered that both hot and cool temperature cycles prevent wasps (Trissolcus basalis) from forgetting. (Article link).

Trissolcus basalis (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae) parasitizing the eggs of its host Nezara Viridula (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae). These parasitoids can detect their host's

Trissolcus basalis (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae) wasps (left panel) parasitizing the eggs of their host stink bug Nezara viridula (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae; mating couple shown in right panel). These parasitoids can detect their host’s « chemical footprints », and even commit them to memory! (Photos: Antonino Cusumano)

Crisia Tabacaru and Sarah McPike (University of Alberta) studied Dendroctonus ponderosae and other bark and ambrosia beetles and found that competition between the beetles may limit post-fire colonization of burned forest stands (Article link).

Marla Schwarzfeld (University of Alberta) found that tree-based (GMYC and PTP) species delimitation models were less reliable in delimiting test species, and the Nearctic Ophion (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) fauna is much larger than previously thought (Article link).

Where have all the mosquitoes gone? Emily Acheson and colleagues (University of Ottawa) found spatial modelling reveals mosquito net distributions across Tanzania do not target optimal Anopheles mosquito habitats (Article link).

Tyler Wist and colleagues (University of Alberta) found that a native braconid parasitoid (Apanteles polychrosidis) uses host location cues induced by feeding damage on black ash but not on green ash (Article link). Also check out the author’s recent post on the ESC Blog!

Fig. 2 Female Apanteles polychrosidis Viereck (Hymenopetra: Braconidae)

Fig. 2 Female Apanteles polychrosidis Viereck (Hymenopetra: Braconidae) (Photo: Tyler Wist).


Sharavari Kulkarni and colleagues (University of Alberta) discovered that reducing tillage could increase the amount of weed seeds consumed by carabid beetles (Article link).

Physiology and Genetics

Sebastien Boutin and colleagues (Université Laval) are beginning to decode the genetic basis of honeybee hygenic behaviour (Article link).

Investigating the cold tolerance of different Sierra leaf beetle life stages, Evelyn Boychuk and colleagues (University of Western Ontario) found that adults are freeze tolerant, the eggs and pupae are freeze-avoidant, and the larvae are chill susceptible (Article link).

From the Authors:

Shaun Turney, Elyssa Cameron, and Chris Cloutier had this to say about their new article published in PeerJ:

Our supervisor, Prof. Chris Buddle, has always emphasized the importance of voucher specimens for our entomology research. He explained that voucher specimens make our work replicable and verifiable. We wondered how widespread the practice of making voucher specimens among those practicing arthropod-based research. We investigated the frequency of voucher deposition in 281 papers, and the factors which correlated to this frequency. Surprisingly, vouchers were deposited less than 25% of the time! Our paper highlights the need for a greater culture of voucher deposition and we suggest ways in which this culture can be cultivated by researchers, editors, and funding bodies.

Voucher specimens: an important component of arthropod-based research (Photo provided by Shaun Turney, Elyssa Cameron, and Chris Cloutier)

Voucher specimens: an important component of arthropod-based research (Photo provided by Shaun Turney, Elyssa Cameron, and Chris Cloutier)

From Ikkei Shikano, on two of his recently published articles:

Parents that experience a stressful environment can equip their offspring to fare better in a similar environment. Since this can be energetically expensive for the parent, we asked if parents are exposed to two stressors (nutritional stress and a pathogen), would they equip the offspring for both stressors or would they select one over the other? Cabbage looper moths exposed to a pathogen and poor food quality produced offspring that were highly resistant to that same pathogen. Parents that were given poor food produced offspring that developed faster on poor food. When the parents experienced both stressors, they produced offspring that were resistant to multiple pathogens but did not grow faster on a poor diet (Article link).

Herbivorous insects unavoidably eat large and diverse communities of non-entomopathogenic microbes, which live on the surface of their host plants. Previous studies suggest that consuming non-entomopathogenic bacteria may induce a costly immune response that might decrease the risk of infection by pathogens. But isn’t it wasteful for an insect upregulate a costly immune response to non-pathogens that it ingests with every meal? Within an appropriate ecological context, we show that cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni, larvae do not induce a costly immune response, indicating that they are adapted to consuming non-pathogenic bacteria that are commonly found on the surface of their host plants (Article link).

From Kate Pare, on an article published by a group of undergraduates taking the Arctic Ecology field course at the University of Guelph:

Our study focused on changes in ant diversity in the area surrounding Churchill, Manitoba between the historic collections made by Robert E. Gregg in 1969 and collections made by students and instructors of the Arctic ecology field course in 2012. Seven ant species were collected in 2012 compared to the five species recorded from 1969. This increase in species richness in the 2012 collection is more likely a result of cryptic molecular diversity that was overlooked in the collection made in 1969 (Article Link, post on the ESC blog).

Members of the Arctic Ecology Field course 2015 (Photo: Eric Scott)

Members of the Arctic Ecology Field course 2015 (Photo: Eric Scott).

The ESC Student Affairs Committee will be continuing to help publicize graduate student publications to the wider entomological community through our Research Roundup. If you published an article recently and would like it featured, e-mail us at entsoccan.students@gmail.com.

For regular updates on new Canadian entomological research, you can join the ESC Students Facebook page or follow us on Twitter @esc_students.

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Differential parasitism and ash tree volatile organic chemicals

By Tyler Wist  

The ash leaf cone roller, Caloptilia fraxinella (Ely) (Lepidoptera: Gracillaridae) (Fig. 1) started to get noticed in the cities of the Western Canadian prairies in 1998, well, in Saskatoon, SK at least. I know this because that summer the green ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica (Oleaceae), in my front yard was covered in cone rolled leaflets and had not been prior to that year. I had just started working for the City of Saskatoon’s Pest Management Program that year and one of our mandates was urban forest insects…not that there was any budget to control them, but it piqued my interest in urban forest entomology.

Fig. 1 The ash leaf coneroller, Caloptilia fraxinella (Ely) (Lepidoptera: Gracillaridae) adult, pupal exuvium and cocoon.

Fig. 1 – The ash leaf coneroller, Caloptilia fraxinella (Ely) (Lepidoptera: Gracillaridae) adult, pupal exuvium and cocoon.

The following year, Chris Saunders with the City of Edmonton’s Pest Management Program, contacted us in Pest Management and asked if we had seen this cone roller on our ash trees because they had just noticed it on the ash trees in Edmonton. Greg Pohl had identified this leaf miner/leaf roller that year on all species of horticultural Fraxinus in Edmonton and published the identification and some life history of the moth in a 2004 paper (Pohl et al. 2004) along with a brief identification of several parasitoids that were reared from larvae and pupae. The lone braconid, identified to the genus Apanteles and found to be all one species by Darryl Williams of the Canadian Forest Service in Edmonton seemed to be the dominant parasitoid in this complex, but without a species designation not much else about the wasp could be gleaned from the literature.

Chris Saunders suggested that I study the ash leaf cone roller as a master’s project but I digressed from urban forest entomology for a few years into pollination of a nutraceutical/agricultural crop. By this time, the ash leaf cone roller had spread to every ash tree in both cities and often rolled 100% of the leaflets on a single tree. I finally followed Chris’ advice and started a PhD project in Maya Evenden’s lab at the University of Alberta, which was the only lab in Canada that was working on the ash leaf cone roller problem (Evenden 2009). The Apanteles sp. was still the dominant parasitoid and so, along with studies on the chemical ecology of the moth (Wist et al. 2014), I also studied the third trophic level in this system (Wist and Evenden 2013). Of course, I couldn’t go through my studies without knowing what the species designation was for the dominant parasitoid wasp. Fortunately, Jose Fernandez-Triana had just begun his study of the genus Apanteles at the CNC in Ottawa and once Henri Goulet passed along the Apanteles specimens that I had sent for identification he quickly determined that this parasitoid was Apanteles polychrosidis Viereck (Hymenopetra: Braconidae) (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Female Apanteles polychrosidis Viereck (Hymenopetra: Braconidae)

Fig. 2  – Female Apanteles polychrosidis Viereck (Hymenopetra: Braconidae)

Apanteles polychrosidis kills the ash leaf cone roller larvae before they can chew their emergence “window” that they use to escape the cone rolled leaflet as adults. This behaviour gives a fairly reliable visual cue that a cone rolled leaflet without a “window” has been parasitized by A. polychrosidis because the other parasitoids in the complex emerge after the cone roller has pupated and created its escape route “window”. Unrolling the leaflet confirms the presence of A. polychrosidis if its telltale “hammock-like” cocoon is present (Fig. 3). This type of cocoon is thought to be a defense against hyper-parasitism but as we found (Wist and Evenden 2013) it doesn’t always work out for A. polychrosidis!

Fig. 3 Apanteles polychrosidis Viereck (Hymenopetra: Braconidae) adult above its cocoon and beside the leaflet cone rolled by Caloptilia fraxinella (Ely) (Lepidoptera: Gracillaridae). Note the emergence hole in the side of the leaflet that the wasp chewed to escape.

Fig. 3 – Apanteles polychrosidis Viereck (Hymenopetra: Braconidae) adult above its cocoon and beside the leaflet cone rolled by Caloptilia fraxinella (Ely) (Lepidoptera: Gracillaridae). Note the emergence hole in the side of the leaflet that the wasp chewed to escape.

To assess the percentage of parasitism by this dominant parasitoid I adapted a method that Chris Saunders and I had discussed years earlier for assessing the parasitism of Apanteles sp. on individual trees. For the initial experiment in our paper (Wist et al. 2015) I sampled leaflets to estimate the density of cone rollers on the tree and estimated the percentage of parasitism by A. polychrosidis on two of the common urban species of ash in Edmonton. Apanteles polychrosidis parasitism was higher on black ash, F. nigra, at all sites than it was on green ash, F. pennsylvanica, which can be called differential parasitism and it seems to be common when host larvae develop on two or more host plants, but had not been well studied on trees. When host density and parasitism were graphed, the relationship of parasitism to host density could be visualized by the slope of the regression line, and on black ash, parasitism was independent of host density on black ash, but was negatively density dependent on green ash. In other words, on black ash parasitism is always high but on green ash, parasitism declines as the density of C. fraxinella increases. I ran the same experiment on green and black ash trees in Saskatoon with the same results but we chose to leave them out of the final version of the manuscript.

I was already studying the chemical ecology of C. fraxinella so this was where we looked for an answer to the differential parasitism in the field. I ran a y-tube olfactometer experiment with black and green ash plant material as the attractive source of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and this turned out to be rather tricky. I had three treatments that I wanted to test; undamaged leaflets, leaflets damaged by C. fraxinella and leaflets that were mechanically damaged.

First, I tried to bag small seedlings as the source of the plant smell but I couldn’t seal the system well enough to get reliable airflow through the y tube chamber. I had to switch to using leaflets alone which raises the issue of the smell of the leaflets changing once they have been removed from the tree which could be a problem especially in the “undamaged” treatment. I also needed enough female A. polychrosidis hunting for hosts to give me a decent sample size so I had to collect and emerge as many “un-windowed” cone-rolled leaflets as I could in the summer, and hope that they would actually mate and want to oviposit into host larvae at this point in their lives. Another issue was that I couldn’t coax my summer emerged C. fraxinella to lay eggs on ash seedlings to create leaf-mined treatments. Fortunately, a subset of the local population of C. fraxinella had developed a second generation on the new ash leaves that a dying ash tree puts out in July in an effort to save itself. These leaflets became my leaf-mined treatment. Over two seasons with a lot of juggling and timing of three species I was able to gather enough experimental data with the olfactometer to discover that female A. polychrosidis were differentially attracted to the volatile odour cues from each ash species. In green ash tests, they were attracted to the smell of green ash alone but in black ash tests, they were not attracted unless the leaflets were attacked by its host. The “icing on the manuscript cake” was the GC-EAD results by co-authour Regine Gries that showed that 13 compounds in the volatile profile of ash could be sensed by the antennae of A. polychrosidis, and some of them are known to increase in response to herbivore damage.

I’d say that this manuscript is a starting point for further studies on this interesting parasitism system and could accommodate projects from chemical ecology and landscape ecology perspectives at the very least. In fact, Danielle Hoefele and Sarah McPike have already begun projects in Maya’s lab on the FraxinusCaloptilia-Apanteles system. In case you’d like to know more, here is the link to our manuscript published in Arthropod-Plant Interactions.

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Student opportunities at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology


Next September, the largest-ever scientific meeting of entomologists will take place at the International Congress of Entomology (ICE) in Orlando, Florida. For graduate students and early-career entomologists, it will be a fantastic opportunity to meet your peers from all over the world, present your research in a high-profile setting, and scout out potential study or career opportunities.

While you might be thinking that it’s an awful long time from now, and that there’s that pesky thesis that you have to get written, there are two important deadlines coming up soon that you should be aware of:

1. Travel Awards for Students and Early-Career Professionals

The international branch of the Entomological Society of America is giving a total of $50,000 worth of awards to students from outside the USA to attend ICE 2016.

Find detailed information about these awards here. Note that you need to be a member of the ESA to apply, that and membership will cost you between $50 and $150. If you plan to apply, you need to act fast – the deadline for application is September 1st, 2015.

Also note that the Entomological Society of Canada will also have a student and early-career professional travel awards program to assist with attendance at ICE. Information about these awards will be available soon!

2. The International Graduate Student Showcase (IGSS)

The Graduate Student Showcase, which has become a staple of ESC annual meetings, is coming to ICE 2016! Don’t miss this opportunity to present your finished research project alongside the top graduate students in entomology from around the world.

To apply, you need to be defending your MSc or PhD thesis between September 30, 2015 and September 30, 2016.

Find more information about the IGSS here.

The deadline for IGSS applications is October 31, 2015.